Huh. So first we had a Vocaloid-based game, then an anime-based game, now a visual novel-based game. That's a Weeaboo Hattrick, innit?
Anyway, there's two names for this game, actually- one is correct (Tomoyo Fighter ~ It's an Exciting Life~ Perfect Edition) and the other is shorter (Tomoyo Fighter Perfect). We use a mix of the two here so we can cover both the accuracy and brevity bases (not that my lackwit writer knows what the word 'brevity' means). Also important to note is that this game's existence is... Confusing. There's several different versions and hacks available, so for consistency we're playing with the 3.01 patch (available from Chinchilla Softhouse's website). Finally, due to the sheer amount of characters, we didn't beat it with everyone. We did about five runs of the game before we figured we got the gist of it. We have a life outside vid-cons, you know. Oh, and here's a page where we beg for help in identifying the characters. So, you know, help us out an' all that.
Let's outline this right away- Tomoyo Fighter ~It's an Exciting Life~ Perfect Edition is... A weird game.
This weirdness has nothing to do with the fact that it's based (very, very loosely) on Clannad, a visual novel by Key (which I've never played- if that name isn't familiar to you, then congratulations, you're a normal human being. Colony Drop can bring you up to speed on why Key VNs are actually pretty terrifying) which, as far as I can tell, is about schoolgirls taking names and kicking ass. I think. The weirdness does not even come from the fact that as well as Clannad, the game includes characters from various animes and mangas (Rozen Maiden, Reiko the Zombie Shop- I've never heard of them either), video games (Valis) and other parts of Japanese culture (Vocaloid, Hard Gay!) all thrown together haphazardly into an orgy of violent fighting.
No, it's just... A weird game.
An homage to scrolling brawlers released for Windows PCs in 2008 by Chinchilla Softhouse (an expansion on their previous games Tomoyo Fighter and Tomoyo Fighter Plus), Tomoyo Fighter Perfect (let's just use the shorter name for now) is a game mostly concerned with beating dudes up. That's the kind of premise I can get behind. Chosing from a pretty wide selection of characters, even from the start (including the titular Tomoyo, the hapless Sunohara and whoever the hell Mr. Level is) you make your way through the streets (and train stations, and grocery stores, and gardens) of Whatevertown, Japan, beating up anyone dumb enough to get in your way. That's pretty much all there is to it as far as story goes (just as it should be) and it hits all the standard genre notes- wail on groups of dudes until they fall down, knock over trash cans for health pickups/extra lives, fight a few bosses, be on your way. If you've played any scrolling brawler, you're in familiar territory, but this has one or two twists. For a start, this has slightly more buttons than most- Punch and Kick (which can be combined), Jump, Grab (replaces the genre-standard walk-up-and-grab, also used to pick up weapons/items) and Run- so you'd expect perhaps a greater variety of moves available. For the most part, this is true, involving Street Fighter-esque joystick motions for special attacks, and a surprising amount of moves that can be performed on downed foes. The other twist is... Well, there isn't one. Except for the sheer amount of characters.
Really now, the characters deserve their own paragraph (two, in fact) because there's a lot of them, so this game doesn't fall into the tried-and-tested scrolling brawler situation of three characters in the distinct catagories of fast-but-weak/slow-but-strong/nobody-picks-Cody. It's not really their strength or speed that defines them like other brawlers, it's all in the abilities... Or lack thereof. All characters have at least one special move (usually about two or three) which can range from genre-standard (After Tomoyo has a crowd-clearing side-kick), to support abilities (Fuko can summon a starfish helper and Kotomi prepares a lunch to restore health) to what we'll charitably call 'other' (Kyou has a SCOOTER RIDE ATTACK), and their use is limited by the special meter under their health bar (beat dudes up, it refills). Furthermore, and this is where it gets weird, character abilities differ as well- some can't run, some can't pick up weapons, some can't use firearms, some only have one basic attack instead of Kick/Punch variants, and some can't even grab enemies (most of the cast can't, actually)...
This is one of the problems I had with the game, and the real contributor to the weirdness- while the abundance of special abilities is nice, about half the character roster (and not just the secret ones) are boring to play as because their ability set makes the game more repetitive. They don't feel like they're all finished or thought-out for long enough. Nanase, for example, carries a stick and can run but can't grab enemies or weapons and hasn't really got that many moves to keep you interested. A more extreme example is Nagisa, who can't grab, can't run, can't use weapons, has barely any viable moves, and attacks so slow that you do not want to play as her. Her best use is as a support character in the handy Auto-2P mode where the computer takes over (I wouldn't make a friend play as her, I'm classier than that). Others like Mikuru are dull to play as, with a small set of abilities you'll be using over and over again (some don't even have proper combo strings!) and others still (Eroyama, Akina, Suigintou) have such a limited selection of moves that by the time you get to Stage 2 you want to quit and try someone else. Compare this with the bonus characters in Fighters Megamix- they don't have as many moves as the other characters but they're still actually fun to play as and aren't missing essential moves (with the sole exception of Bean and Bark's throws). I guess it helps that FM was built on a solid foundation. And was developed by AM2. But I digress. Even the more viable characters have abilities missing for no real reason (why can't Fuko throw?) and this inconsistency just makes the game feel slap-dash. Other scrolling brawlers have small character rosters, but that's gotta be on purpose to prevent situations like this- they cap 'em at four or five (except Guardians which doesn't do shit by halves and has eight) to make sure there's variety but it isn't spread too thinly like in this game. Less is more, you know?
Then there's the fighting system itself, and the levels. I'm a picky asshole when it comes to scrolling brawlers- I'm mostly in the Capcom camp (seriously Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is my favourite brawler) but games like Violent Storm and Undercover Cops show other devs can do it too- so if things aren't just so it can be pretty damaging for me. The levels in Tomoyo Fighter Perfect mostly get it right, with a nice variety of locations (personal highlight? The nerd convention) but some are too long (the train station stage could've done with a trim), others are plain annoying (the shopping mall has people on scooters that explode when they're dismounted and it's hard to run from 'em. You bet your ass you're gonna die in that explosion) and others are both (the pier stage. Fuck those motorbikes). Fortunately the end-game boss rush makes up for it by being amusingly over-the-top (You fight Oren from Kill Bill!) As for the art of beating dudes up, Tomoyo Fighter Perfect almost gets it right- it's certainly satisfying in parts- but the fighting itself can feel a little... Off. A little weird. For a start, there's this odd feeling that you're not quite in control, the controls feel a little floaty. You can switch on Turbo Mode to speed the game up, but certain attacks and jumping in particular feel like there's a delay on them, and their movement/hitbox never quite feels precise, which can be annoying because you normally need to jump to get out of danger, and it makes the game feel floaty, not quite there. It's not as bad as other brawlers (yes Burning Fight I am talking about you) but it's not as tight as it could be (especially running, which feels super-slippery, and combo strings which, depending on the character, don't feel natural at all).
The real problem here is the juggling. In most other brawlers, when you're knocked to the floor, you're safe for a few seconds. Yeah, you lost some health, but before you get up again, you can't be hurt (unless you're playing Final Fight and Andore Jr. is about to bellyflop you- that's when you mash the buttons and get outta there). When you're knocked off your feet in Tomoyo Fighter Perfect, though, you don't hit the deck straight away and are still vulnerable to further attacks while you're in the air, and if you're fighting a crowd or enemies, that's going to happen. A lot. Having half your health meter ripped out before you even hit the ground isn't an uncommon occurence (especially near the end with the massive suit dudes who will straight up wreck your shit and don't get me started on the special Deathmatch Mode where you'll die in seconds because of this) and there's nothing you can do about it a lot of the time. What doesn't help is that while some characters have the right tools to sort this out (Gogo's running dash, Fuko's starfish and desperation attack), others don't have anything and this makes their deficiencies even more apparent- they're gonna die a lot. This is different from, say, Final Fight, where while some characters have weaknesses (Haggar Vs. Hollywood, ugggghhhh) they have something to make up for it (Haggar being awesome with pipes). Not so here. Something about all these elements combined makes the game very frustrating in parts, even with the right character (especially the Clannad character rumble boss fight, and any stage involving motorbikes/scooters) and almost sucks the joy out of it...
Which is a shame, because when it gets it right it gets it amazingly right.
When the game isn't frustrating the hell out of you, this is some really great stuff! For the most part, Chinchilla made the experience of beating dudes up pretty satisfying, and while it can be a little slow (even with Turbo on) it does the job well enough. There's not that much variety in enemy types, but when knocking them down is so fun (if peppered with frustration) you don't really notice. More importantly, the game is hilariously, stupendously over-the-top, full of the kind of reckless absurdity I love about scrolling brawlers. Some examples- most of the enemies are taller than you and make the screen shudder violently when attacked and knocked to the floor, the few characters that can use weapons get to play with the knives which are oh-so-much-fun because everyone uses it like the 'pig-sticker' knife from Final Fight and blood gets splattered all over the shop, there's a nerd convention stage where you get to beat up fat anime geeks with a giant plastic ice cream and use tasers on them, one of the bosses is Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill who is also a playable character, there's another stage that's a penis-induced dream where you use giant phallic mushrooms as weapons, you get to use bags of rubbish against drunk Japanese salarymen in the red light district... On paper, in theory, this is one of the most flat-out insane scrolling brawlers ever made- a genre that is basically built around being as ridiculous as possible- and so I should be in love with this game. But with all its flaws, I'm not.
I just wish it were more consistent, you know?
Drawing conclusions from this one is a bit tough. I'm torn on it, because everything it does well (it is completely over-the-top in every way, has some really nice sprite work, beating up dudes!) is countered by something it does badly (weirdly implemented characters, fucking juggling ruining your health, overall inconsistent quality) so in the end, much like the game's character roster itself, you get this weird, imperfect mish-mash of things. I'm probably being a little harsh to it- it's a doujin release after all, but I think a little harshness is warranted since it's clearly trying to mimic a well-established genre, and comparisons are inevitable. Is it fun to beat up dudes in this game? Yes, it is. But is that enough? Not quite- it's got moxie, it's got guts, but the flaws drag it down from being one of my favourites, which with some serious tweaking (and, I dunno, adding someone normal like Codename: Snake as a playable character), it could've been. Oh well.
On the plus side, the chick with the broom has the greatest running animation in any brawler. Gotta see it to believe it.
For being so near, yet so far, Tomoyo Fighter ~ It's an Exciting Life ~ Perfect Edition is awarded...
In a sentence, Tomoyo Fighter ~ It's an Exciting Life ~ Perfect Edition is...
Too weird to succeed. Like, really weird.
By the way, if you want to play as all the characters, here's a completed save.
Throw this save file in the /dat folder for all the characters. Fight on!!
... I think this might be the single beardiest thing I've written for this website.
Proof positive I think way too God-damn much about scrolling brawlers.
next month on gaming hell an in-depth psychoanalysis of the motives of sonic the hedgehog (maybe)